I wrote something yesterday about the alternative formations and their pros and cons, plus the difficulties in switching between them during games. Last night we played the first half with a 3-5-2 and, not helped by a lack of cohesion (as changes were made to each area) and rustiness, we were dire, leaking goals, unable to string passes together or to get any joy from lumped balls forward. The switch to 4-3-3 in the second half, to enable the introduction of Blackett-Taylor and Rak-Sakyi, saw a material improvement and a goal back, only for any thoughts of getting something out of the game to disappear with a sucker punch for an Oxford third. Another miserable round, another game without a win, a further slip in the table.
The changes to the team saw Inniss and Sessegnon removed from the defence, with Thomas returning from injury to accompany Lavelle and Ness and Chin operating as one of the wing-backs. The surprise in midfield was a rest for Fraser, with Henry stepping into that spot (no sign of Morgan or Forster-Caskey), while up front Stockley came in to start, Leaburn among the subs, while Kanu was retained.
The less said about the first half the better. We made Oxford look like they were playing their own tribute to Pele. A free-kick crashed against the underside of the bar before a low cross from their right, while well-directed, went past three defenders before reaching their guy unmarked at the far post for a tap-in. A few minutes later a rather hopeful shot was deflected past Maynard-Brewer into the net. Oxford could have filled their boots against a porous, uncoordinated defence, while with the ball we either hit it high for Stockley to try to produce something or gave it away. Nothing material came from the wing-backs and to be frank Kanu, as in the first half against Peterborough (before he laid on our goal), looked raw.
It had to change at the break and at least the changes made sense rather than being halfhearted, asking players to play out of position. Off went Thomas, Lavelle and Kanu, on came Inniss, CBT and Rak-Sakyi. Oxford went off the boil and we at least carried a threat, one demonstrated when Blackett-Taylor got clear down the left and, like Kanu before him, delivered an excellent cross for Leaburn, who had by then come on for Stockley, to head home, having delayed his run to lose his marker. And when Rak-Sakyi played a reverse pass into Leaburn’s path we thought for a moment that somehow we might draw level. That wasn’t to be as their keeper got a touch on it; and with that chance our best hope disappeared. There might still have been a desperate end to the game had Oxford not put it to bed with a third, one coming rather out of the blue as we pressed for an equaliser.
At least we can now, have to now, acknowledge this as a crisis, not some dip in form. We are still light on numbers due to injuries: Wallacott, Egbo, O’Connell, MacGrandles (remember him?), Aneke, with Thomas only returning last night and apparently Sessegnon not fit. We are also a team without a plan, low on confidence, and with the trap door opening beneath us, having failed to get any new manager bounce. Hopefully some of the personnel changes – both outgoings and incomings – will happen quickly. We have five league games in January and simply don’t have the luxury of waiting until the end of the transfer window. The uncertainty over ownership and who might be writing the cheques is a factor for sure. Hopefully all concerned will appreciate the desperate need for both change and clarity as soon as possible.